You’re worried about your child. The signs are mounting: skipped classes, failing grades, poor grooming, missing money, sleeping too much, eating too little. If you think your child is doing drugs, there are three critical steps you must take now to stop the downward spiral.

Warning Signs: Spotting Drug Abuse in Adolescents 

It can be difficult for parents to spot drug abuse among teens unless it’s obvious. Many adolescent behaviors, such as withdrawing from family activities or acting sullen, can also be attributed to a phase your teen is going through.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason––such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem.”

The key statement is “for no apparent reason.” If you know your children well, you know what upsets them. You know when they’re worried about relationships, friends, schoolwork or other issues and when their sudden moodiness appears out of the blue.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also provides the following list of signs that may indicate your child has developed a substance-abuse problem. Do you spot any of these behaviors in your child?

  • Significant changes in behavior
  • Sudden changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Poor grooming, or sudden changes in appearance
  • Anti-social behaviors such as getting in trouble with school authorities or the police
  • Skipping school or favorite activities
  • Poor grades
  • Loss of interest in old friends and deteriorating relationships with family and friends

Three Critical Steps to Take if You Suspect Your Child Is on Drugs

Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Once addictive behaviors have their tentacles locked into your child, they’ll rapidly pull him down until he feels like he’s drowning. It’s up to you to throw him a lifeline:

Step 1 — Contact your child’s physician or a doctor, clinic or hospital specializing in addiction and recovery.

As the evidence of your child’s problem mounts, your first impulse may be to confront your child.  Confrontation without evidence leads to denial, and it may push your child further away from you.

An addiction and recovery specialist, your child’s family physician, or a local substance abuse hotline all provide experts who can connect you with the facilities, resources, tools and information that you need to best help your child.

Step 2 — Find proof.

It’s important to find proof so that when you talk to your child about substance abuse, it’s hard to deny. A search of backpacks, bedrooms and other personal spaces may feel intrusive, but if you turn up a secret cache of pills, joints or booze, it’s undeniable proof.

Check your child’s social media accounts. Make sure you know which websites your child visits. Many kids brag about what they’re up to with their online friends, and this type of bragging has helped many concerned parents intervene before substance abuse gets out of hand.

If all else fails, ask your child’s physician to conduct a drug screening the next time you bring your child in for a physical examination. Most kids have to have school or sports physicals once or twice a year. Schedule one now. Lab tests can find evidence of drug abuse in blood work, urine tests or hair samples.

Step 3 — Have the conversation.

Have you found proof that something is going on? If so, then it’s time for a conversation with your child.

Make it a conversation – not a confrontation.  Use “I” statements such as: “I found this in your backpack when I went to put a book away.  Can you tell me what this is and why you have it?”

Another way to begin the conversation is to simply say, “I love you and I care about you. I’ve noticed that you’re sleeping a lot more, and eating less. Are you feeling all right?’

Experts from the National Council on Drug and Alcohol Dependence recommend the following tips for parents who need to have a drug-related conversation with their child:

  • Listen more than you talk. Let your child speak and tell you what’s going on.
  • Ask open-ended questions that prompt discussion, not yes or no answers.
  • Engage in conversation when you’re calm — don’t have this talk when you’re angry or upset.
  • Offer honesty and willingness to help.

What About Interventions?

Many people have seen reality television shows depicting intervention-style confrontations with out-of-control family members. While they make for interesting television, some experts say they rarely work in real life. However, the Partnership for Drug Free Kids says they can work if implemented correctly. Talk to your child’s doctor or counselor to decide if an intervention is right for your family.

There’s Help and Hope Ahead

The bottom line is that addictions destroy lives. While your kids may be angry with you now for searching their rooms or confronting them, someday they’ll thank you for saving them from a lifetime of addiction. With the right support, your child can get back on the road to health, happiness and success. There is help, and hope, available.